Thursday, August 18, 2022

Religious intolerance is damaging India’s secular heritage: Yusuf Nalwala

Yusuf Nalwala stands tall in social and corporate circles as an entrepreneur, businessman, social worker, community leader in Muscat, Oman. He is concerned and saddened about how the social fabric of unity, brotherhood and communal harmony in India is being torn asunder by extremist elements for their own   narrow, political ends.

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Here are excerpts from Mr Nalwala’s exclusive interview to Pravasi Samwad (PS):

 PS: Mr Nalwala, you have spent several decades in Oman, what are its strengths?

Nalwala: When I came to Oman from Mumbai (then Bombay), India, in 1977,   it was in an infant stage of development. Late Sultan Qaboos was enthusiastic about fast-tracking the country’s development.

My civil engineering background was certainly a plus point. I was interested in construction projects. These were easily available in the early years of my arrival in Oman.

I also found that the Omani people were very friendly. There were many like-minded expats keen to settle down here. The country’s clean, wide roads, and discipline in most activities of day-to-day life are among some of its biggest attractions. Thus, everything was in the right setting, making most people fall in love with the place.

Nalwala says higher remuneration than what he was earning in India was a huge motivating factor to move to Oman. “There was also the promise “that I was travelling to a better place”. Starting off as a Plumbing Engineer, Nalwala was able to gradually move up, doing Building Construction and Infrastructure works in the Construction space.

 

PS: Being an Indian how do you find things in India, particularly religious issues that now seem to occupy centre-stage in every aspect of life?

Nalwala: My understanding and perceptions of things are more from what we see and hear in the media. If I believe that all what I see is true, then I am ashamed at how the country is divided on the basis of religion.

“On the other hand, there are heartening instances of religious harmony where persons of one religious community have risked their lives for people from a different religious group.”

It is shameful and painful to see that there are unnecessary efforts to exert pressures on the lives and livelihood of people on the basis of their religious beliefs. What is shown goes beyond brute force; it is more in the nature of covert persecution. And, most of it is directed against the Muslims — physical violence, disrupting business, molesting women, humiliating people are acts which are disgusting.

I do agree that these are scattered incidences confined to only certain pockets of the country, but disturbing nonetheless.  On the other hand, there are heartening instances of religious harmony where persons of one religious community have risked their lives for people from a different religious group.

This is something that makes us believe that we belong to a secular state and a society where humanity prevails over all other religious sentiments.

PS: Certain incidents have given India a bad name even though they do not represent the true nature of India.

Nalwala: True, all that is shown is often blown out of proportion. We must discount such incidences. I have grown up in India with more Hindu friends than Muslim friends. I was accepted as a good human being not only by my friends but their families and their friends as well. The bond was of human values and had nothing to do with our religious beliefs. My belief is that this is the true India and not what is projected by media.

PS: What are your suggestion and message to bring about a change?

Nalwala: The burning issue is that the flames of hatred amongst the religious groups is being fanned by politicians with vested interests.

All Indians must try to reflect on the fact that these elements have limited life. They are in politics mainly to make their lives better and not that of the common man. They have a selfish motive and that is to remain in power and exploit the situation. If we recognise this fundamental aspect, we will be able to make more peace and find ways to live amicably.

My suggestion is that leaders on both sides of the fence must create more inclusive situations to understand the true spirit. I would like to invite Hindus to see how a Muslim prays. (They will understand) What is the content and meaning of what is recited.

Both the religious groups must ensure that their field of human care and betterment encompasses all the people inclusively.  All charitable organisations, hospitals must open doors for all religions and must support people on merits and not on religious beliefs.

If every school, every hospital, orphanage open doors to everyone and give the same treatment – things will begin to change. We must create groups of like-minded people from all religious groups to continuously preach the message of oneness and humanity.

They must regularly create programmes, events and strategies that will convey the message of peace.

 This will certainly bring better understanding and mutual respect. For example, if we explain the most common expression that is used by most Muslims and, perhaps, known to most Hindus is the Islamic greeting, Assalaamu alai kum. It means I extend greetings of safety and peace upon you.

We must educate people that no religion can ever preach harm to others. Every religion is based on the same fundamental principles: Truthfulness, respect for elders, Integrity, kindness, charity, gratitude, empathy and compassion.

 

All that is shown is often blown out of proportion. We must discount such incidences. I have grown up in India with more Hindu friends than Muslim friends. I was accepted as a good human being not only by my friends but their families and their friends as well. The bond was of human values and had nothing to do with our religious beliefs. My belief is that this is the true India and not what is projected by media

 

PS: What is your message to NRIs living away from India?

Nalwala: I would have normally liked to advise that our differences must not be shared with others. They are outsiders and have nothing to do with us. However, recent incidents of improper statements about Our Prophet have drawn the attention and ire in the Arab world. However, by and large, the Arab’s reaction has in my opinion been one of restraint and maturity.

Muslims in India must follow their example as well. As responsible citizens we must conduct our affairs with maturity in the best national interests.

PS: Finally, two more questions in conclusion, what are your other areas of interest other than business?

Nalwala: Generally, to strive to become a good human being and be useful to others as far as possible. I like to understand the human behaviour under varying circumstances. Thinking deeply about such situations makes a person more humane and savvy

PS: You are a known face in Oman, respected among Indians as well as Omanis for your social and welfare leanings. How do you balance between your business and other activities?

Nalwala: Honestly there was never any conscious effort to try to balance work. I have been self-employed now for more than 40 years. My children have grown up to be independent since over 15 years. Thus at both ends there was always the freedom to do what I pleased.

I have been participating in activities to the best of my ability and was enabled by the Almighty who has given me opportunities to serve the community and received handsome acceptance boosting my interest in the social activities mainly connected with the Indian Educational System. Overall, life is beautiful and enjoyable.

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David Solomon
(For over four decades, David Solomon’s insightful stories about people, places, animals –in fact almost anything and everything in India and abroad – as a journalist and traveler, continue to engross, thrill, and delight people like sparkling wine. Photography is his passion.)

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